Buddhism in the West (North America and Europe)

Scott A. Mitchell and Thomas Calobrisi

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online September 2010 | | DOI:
Buddhism in the West (North America and Europe)

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The study of Buddhism in the West is built on the pioneering work of a handful of scholars in the mid-1970s. These individuals were bold enough to take the subject seriously within a reluctant academic discipline. Charles Prebish’s American Buddhism (1979) set the standard and many terms of debate for the decades to come. The field has grown considerably, despite a perceived lack of methodological sophistication (see Numrich 2008, cited under General Overviews). Scholars in this area generally approach the subject from one of three directions: area studies (Buddhism in the United States, Buddhism in France, etc.), something of a reverse area studies (e.g., Japanese Buddhism in the United States, Theravada in Britain), or topical studies (e.g., ritual studies, immigration and ethnicity, Buddhism and psychology). The most wide-reaching debates in the field generally revolve around questions of identification or classification and can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. For example, some question what “the West” is meant to signify, placing their research squarely in the context of postcolonial studies, transnational studies, or the construction of Buddhist modernism (McMahan 2002, cited under Ch’an, Zen, Sŏn). Others, such as Tweed 2002 (cited under Matters of Identity), recognize the difficulty of defining what constitutes a Western Buddhist when Buddhist culture has so thoroughly permeated the broader cultural milieu. Serving as a backdrop to these issues has been the wide-ranging and perennial debate regarding the “two Buddhisms” typology that, over the years since Prebish coined the phrase in 1979, has been considered, reconsidered, rearticulated, expanded to three Buddhisms, and renamed in a variety of ways. This article reflects these methodological approaches and topical debates, and it includes relevant sources from postcolonial studies, ritual studies, and engaged Buddhism. As mentioned, “the West” as an area of study is itself somewhat contested. Is the West limited to areas dominated by European culture? Do we extend this category to Australia and Oceania? For the sake of brevity, this article focuses on North America and Europe.

Article.  15304 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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